When they arrived at school this morning, nineteen of my students came in with an extra bounce in their steps. And why wouldn't they be excited? Instead of sitting at a desk all day, they got to spend the day eating pizza, playing games, and hanging out with friends who love to read.
So how did they get to do this? Since 2009, our five district middle schools have offered the Lone Star Plus Reading Incentive (LS+). The LS+ Party is a reward for any student who reads 12 or more books on the Lone Star Plus reading list.
ABOUT THE LIST
Lone Star Reading List is a list of 20 middle grade and YA books, selected by a committee of Texas school and public librarians. The committee has been creating new Lone Star lists each year for more than 20 years. Previous lists have included favorites like The Hunger Games (Collins), Unwind (Shusterman), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Rowling), I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You (Carter), and Warrior Heir (Williams). To qualify, books must be positively reviewed for readers in grades 6-8 and most importantly, appeal to a variety of readers as leisure reading.
The "Plus" part of the LS+ list is the books the librarians in our district add. Each librarian adds 20-25 books to the list in order to tailor the list for our students' interests, to allow for a larger selection, and to help ensure there are enough copies of the books available for students who want them. Popular books on my school's "Plus" list this year included Hawkins's Hex Hall series, Harvey's Haunting Violet, Perez's Dead Is series, and McMann's Cryer's Cross. I also allowed students to count sequels to any book on the list.
HOW DID STUDENTS PROVE THEY REALLY READ THE BOOKS?
Before this year, students had to pass the Accelerated Reader test to prove they read and understood the books. They also had to answer three (written) questions about their honest opinions of the books. This year, our district lost AR to those pesky budget cuts. Instead, we librarians divided up the books on the list and wrote the quizzes ourselves. I put my quizzes into our Moodle server so my students could take quizzes online (less grading for me!); students at the other schools took their quizzes on paper. The students had to get at least 7 out of 10 multiple choice questions about the book correctly in order for it to count. They still had to answer the three opinion questions as well.
(In case you are wondering, we librarians are already working on writing our quizzes for next year!)
ABOUT THE STUDENTS:
This year, we took 19 students from our school. District-wide, 75 students qualified to attend the party. Most of the participants were girls; my group included 4 boys and 15 girls. At my school, 8th graders are the best-represented (8 of them this year). Seventh and sixth grades typically have a similar number of participants (this year, we had 5 sixth graders and 6 seventh graders).
Their socio-economic backgrounds widely vary, but all are academically successful and involved in other school activities. Despite their academic success, not all of the participants this year were frequent library users last year. We had a couple of "surprise" participants this year, and I am very, very proud of them for sticking with it.
ABOUT THE TRIP:
This year, we took our qualifying students to Itz Pizza for lunch and games. At Itz, students devoured an unlimited buffet of pizza, pasta, salads, and desserts. They ate lunch in themed rooms showing cartoons, old movies, or sports on large TV screens lining the walls. They didn't even have to sit with the adults!
I really cannot say enough nice things about Itz Pizza. They were very easy to work with, and they even gave the kids extra points on their games cards for bringing their report cards (5 extra points every "A" and 2 extra points for every "B"). The dining rooms, game room, and restrooms were clean, and the food on the buffet was quite tasty. Our contact person, David Yarmer, was friendly, organized, and easy to work with. He always responded to my emails quickly and was infinitely patient with us getting the payment check to them.
Our district budgets for this trip every year, and the district pays transportation costs and our kids' and librarians' pizza and games package. The students are able to bring extra money, but they truly do not need it. The package Itz offers our schools includes game cards and their choice of two attractions (laser tag, rock-climbing wall, go-carts, bowling, bumper cars). Even after 2 1/2 hours of eating/play time, my students were begging to stay longer. I wish we could have stayed all day.
When we returned to school, the students came to the library for "Fun in the Library." My students played a "How Well Do You Know Your Lone Stars" trivia game, where teams of four match wits against each other to see who remembers details about the books. Questions range in difficulty, with the most difficult questions having the highest point value. And yes, there were prizes for the top-scoring teams. They got to choose from books on next year's Lone Star list, newly-published sequels to this year's list, book lights, and doodle notebooks.
Not one of the kids came away from today empty-handed. All of the middle school librarians make different "gifts" for their students. One school made tie-dyed t-shirts for their students to wear on the trip. I raided the dollar store and created 19 gift bags containing novelty items such as paddleballs, bubbles, candles, various candies, crossword books, mechanical pencils, cute tumbler cups, etc.
This year was the first year we had a drawing for a $50 Wal-Mart gift card. Students qualified to be in the drawing by reading 20 or more books on the list. This was a district-wide drawing, and of our 75 participants, 12 read more than twenty books. The winner? One of my sixth grade girls! The others did not come away with nothing--each of the librarians (there are 5 of us by the way) gave the 20+ readers special prizes. My three girls got autographed copies of books from Jackson Pearce and Tera Lynn Childs (I got them at TLA in Houston a few weeks ago). I also found some cute insulated lunch bags that have "I love reading!" stitched on the front.
FINANCING THE TRIP:
Our district covers the cost of transportation and all costs associated with Itz Pizza (food, games, and 2 attractions each). The librarians each chipped in $10 toward the $50 Wal-Mart gift card. Two of my three autographed books were free; I paid for the other one myself. The prizes for the trivia game came from previous book fairs, book fair profits, and TLA giveaways last month. The 19 gift bags I made up from the dollar store cost $68, which came from the library activity fund (concession stand sales, overdue fines).
WAS IT WORTH IT?
Without a doubt! I cannot tell you how many times I heard "thank you" from our students today! They had a ball, and for all the librarians' blood, sweat, and tears that went into planning our day, it was totally worth it.